There is that old time “joke” of calling seminary, “cemeteries.” What is the cause of this notorious designation you ask? I can personally testify to experiencing some of this so called “deadening” as the Bible becomes a piece of literature to analyze, God becomes the object of our theological studies, and even spiritual formation becomes inundated with papers and excessive reading. Perhaps the presentation of foreboding syllabi causes enough stress and dread for the coming months that you end up saying to yourself, “I would rather be relaxing by the lake by myself than be studying the attributes of God knowing I have to create a 5,000 word paper this semester on it.”
Though seminary can sometimes earn the “cemetery” alias, I want to encourage you that God is present in seminary and your classes can be a major conduit for a real encounter with the living God.
Some particular encounters to be aware of are those “aha” moments when you suddenly realize that you have learned something new or gained a new perspective on an old truth. This personally occurred to me the most in Biblical Theology where the objective of the course was to trace the development of systematic theological themes from Genesis to Revelation. Apologetics is another course where we are privileged to learn about God through logic and reason. To some it may also come as a surprise that God works heavily in Biblical language courses, specifically Hebrew.
Depending on your professor, studying the Hebrew language can be a very formative experience. My Hebrew professor made it a point to reflect on the language and culture and how those things inform the way we live our Christian lives. Learning about the names of God in Hebrew and how reverent the Jews were to the name of God was a very powerful experience and shaped my own reverence and appreciation for God.
God is very present in seminary classes. Making yourself aware of these “nuggets” can sometimes be difficult as we tend to focus more on our assessment and grades. However, to help raise your awareness to the presence of God in your classes, here are some practical tips:
1. Reflection. Oftentimes when we learn something new or gain a new perspective on truth, we receive it superficially because we are consciously or subconsciously analyzing whether what we learned will eventually show up on an exam or not. By the end of the semester we discover that our class notes are comprised mostly by facts that we thought were going to be on the test. Rarely do we find notes that are reflective. My advice is as you attend class take two sets of notes, one for facts, lectures, and important details that are useful to pass the course and another set that represent how what we learned forms and changes the way we understand our own faith and live out our Christian lives. These two sets of notes don’t have to be in two separate notebooks or pages of notes but rather your reflections can simply go on the margins of the page or as a “note/comment” in Word documents.
2. Fear not. Sometimes are inability to internalize lessons and be transformed by it is a result of fear. Perhaps we fear failing the course or being seen as inadequate as a result of our substandard grade. Perhaps we fear that if we are not “academic” enough we will not take the lessons serious and therefore be wasting our time and money. It took me a long time to recognize the fallacy of this logic. These expectations for me were a product of my upbringing, environment, and other’s expectations of me. The problem is, these “fears” were counterproductive and led to seminary’s alias of “cemetery.” What you need to know is that seeing academic lessons as spiritually formative is not only perfectly okay but necessary. I’m certain that if you talk to any of your professors and ask them if it was okay that all their lessons do not influence your spiritual walk with God in any way, they would say a resounding “NO!” So take academia serious but so serious that it stifles your walk with God.
3. Pray. Prayer is our lifeline to God. Connecting with God on a regular basis is impossible to overemphasize. I’m sure you have heard over and over about the importance of prayer and perhaps hearing it over and over again has desensitized you to the truth of its’ importance. Overemphasis is not designed to desensitize you but just the opposite. Prayer really is the most important thing you can do to ensure that you encounter God in seminary and throughout your daily life.
My hope is that you take these few pieces of advice and learn from them sooner than later and begin to experience God in your classes far sooner than I did.
By Joseph Siacunco. Joseph is a Masters of Divinity Student at Denver Seminary located in Littleton, CO. He currently works at Mission Hills Church in the Finance Department and is a Certified Public Accountant. He has worked in Accounting since 2004 but also serves at his church in other ways including teaching and preaching.